Editors Note: This is the second part of the four part Culture of Lies series; read the entire series here.
The phrase "Culture of Life" is, by design, hard to argue with. Who doesn’t support life? The obvious answer of course is anyone opposed to the far-right politically, who then by definition, in their mind, must support a "Culture of Death." Just as the far-right juxtaposes "Pro-Life" with "Pro-Abortion," suggesting that people arguing for the right for women to have control over their bodies means women should have abortions, they set up an overly simplistic dichotomy that immediately puts their political opponents on the defensive, making far-right values appear morally superior.
There is a difference between what is promoted by social conservatives as values comprising a “Culture of Life,” and what their politics represents, which has become a Culture of Lies. As stated in Part 1 of this series, we should all celebrate a person who wants to live their values as they see fit, and humbly ask that they allow us to do the same.
That seems to be the idea America was founded on, the notion of individual liberty.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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It is important that every American take a good hard look at our own core values, and at the historic principles that guide our diverse nation before imposing any one set of values, or any one religion, onto every American. We must decide whether our democracy will be stronger articulating values in which the government remains neutral, ensuring rights, safety and providing reliably accurate information based on facts; or by putting the full force of the federal government behind one narrow interpretation of one religious ideology.
When it comes to my own values (I don’t pretend to speak for anyone here but myself, though many would agree), here is what I believe:
- Life should be valued at every phase;
- Individual liberty is fundamental;
- Sexuality is sacred;
- Marriage can be a civilizing and stabilizing institution;
- Bringing new life into the world is a blessing;
- Love of family is important;
- Adoption and foster parenting should be encouraged;
- People with differing abilities bring valuable lessons;
- Scientific research is important in bringing cures or treatments that can improve the quality of life for many people;
- Life is better with access to clean water and air, food, basic health care, education, and a job;
- No life should be discriminated against, and all life should be afforded equal opportunity;
- Death is not something that should be rushed, and the dying process should value the person who is dying and his or her wishes.
If that represents a "Culture of Death" in some people’s minds, that’s a debate progressives should welcome. I certainly understand that because of an emphasis on individual liberty, some people who would lift fertilized eggs to the same status as an individual human being no longer dependent on a pregnant woman’s womb, will disagree. I recognize the stages of fetal development and understand that the life and health of the mother and the fetus are important throughout a pregnancy, and as difficult as it is for some to believe, side with allowing the pregnant woman, not the government, to make the best decisions for both. Similarly I understand the individual is the best person to determine where they find love, and when the time comes, if faced with a terminal illness, how they want to spend their final days.
Progressives recognize the importance of reality, medical facts, and provable public health strategies to encourage a culture of respect and responsibility for every individual. Not satisfied to live their values and allow others to do the same, the far-right accuses the left of being without values, of being "murderers" or “un-American” and for those of us who are Christian and see these values as consistent with the compassion Christ teaches us to extend to our brothers and sisters, not "the right kind of Christian." The politicization of Christ has become deeply offensive to many, alienated far more, and threatens our democracy.
- Personhood begins at the unknowable moment of conception and every fertilized egg should have full human rights, even if that means denying a woman hers. Colorado will vote on such a proposal next week.
- Women should carry to term every pregnancy no matter the circumstances of its conception, her life or health, the life or health of the fetus, or her own decision about her readiness to be a responsible parent;
- Only parents should teach children respect for their bodies to protect themselves from pedophile priests, teachers, or family members, missing the fact that it is this very isolating belief that subjects far too many children to sexual abuse;
- Abstinence-only-until-marriage should be taught in schools instead of comprehensive sexuality education based on reality and facts, even though abstinence-only is a proven failure;
- Sexual minorities should be ashamed of their sacred sexuality and be discriminated against in jobs, housing, military service, adoption and marriage;
- Contraception is the same thing as abortion, and state-licensed medical professionals should not have to provide contraception in any form if it is against their beliefs, including emergency contraception to rape victims. The Bush Administration is likely to promote a new federal rule saying just that before the election;
- Scientists should be prohibited from using left over embryonic stem cells from invitro fertilization for research into treatments and cures for life threatening conditions;
- Medical technology should be used to prolong life even when that means torture for terminally ill patients ready to die peacefully, on their own terms. The far-right’s attempt to keep Terri Schiavo in a persistent vegetative state against her wishes as expressed by her husband, and their opposition to “states’ rights” with respect to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act are examples of how the far-right uses the federal government to control the personal life decisions of individuals. The far-right now fights the State of Washington’s efforts to follow Oregon’s lead based on more than a decade of independent data showing the law has improved end of life care for everyone, not just the few people who choose to use it.
This is what the far-right now calls a “Culture of Life." For many people who choose to live those values, they work. We should all respect the decisions each person makes in their journey in life, the lessons they have come to learn and teach – for we each have something to offer the other on the path we walk. Where we have differences of opinion, we should agree to disagree with civility, respect, and factual evidence. Shouting something you believe doesn’t make it true.
We should also not be afraid to demand the use of provable facts and public health strategies as part of the debate over public policy, or to call out lies when either side uses them.
It is not the beliefs or values of social conservatives that are the lies, again, believe what you will. But there are provable facts and strategies to solve public policy problems. God gave us brains; we should use them.
Many Americans, but not nearly enough yet, are asking themselves: When did lying become a "traditional family value?" When exactly did families start teaching their children truth was relative, facts do not matter, established science is only a theory? Whatever you believe, if you believe it strongly enough and say it with conviction, that’s fine. Surround yourself with people who only see the world the way you do to validate and protect your ideas. If people don’t agree with you, they are evil and must be defeated or destroyed. The far-right projects their insecurities onto others, creating fear and discord, pushing people away from faith when they need it most in what can only be called anti-evangelism.
How did the search for knowledge become something to sneer at as opposed to aspire to. How did science and medicine become subject to religious ideology and political whim? Damn the facts, right-wing ideology matters more, and as long as someone shares your “traditional family values” that’s the only qualification needed in an increasingly complex world dominated by science, representing the progressive and collective wisdom of all humanity.
As a person of faith, I understand why a culture — our American culture — that accepts inequality and intolerance, emphasizes consumption and greed, promotes wanton disregard for sacred aspects of life, can feel threatening at times and seemingly devalue life. Science is hard to understand and thus easy to dismiss — as Sarah Palin did in not recognizing the links between government-funded studies for fruit flies and important medical advances for children with special needs she claims to want to help. True too, science can be just as dogmatic as religion, but ultimately is neutral, objective.
The only danger in science is how humans use it. We see that is true of religion as well. That is why government should carefully monitor scientific advances to avoid cloning, for example, while encouraging the best possible research. It is also why state-sponsored religion is just as bad an idea today as it was 232 years ago. If the founders wanted this to be an exclusively "Christian Nation" they could have made that clear. They deliberately chose not to.
And yes, secularists can be dismissive in ways that are offensive for people of faith from the left and right. To me that is when faith teaches humility, not defensiveness; inner strength, not outward insecurity.
The far-right has become expert at playing on people’s fears and anxiety, manipulating their fundamental beliefs and core values to gain political power. Not content to live their values and respect the rights of other Americans to do the same, they encourage people to project their anxiety, fear and insecurity onto others, turning it to anger and rage, devaluing and demeaning the lives, faiths, and loves of others. Instead of promoting a "Culture of Life" by humbly living their values, they create a Culture of Lies using religion as a weapon.
The extremists on the far right cannot win a political debate based on facts, so during the past 35 years have perfected evermore extreme tactics using misinformation, challenging accepted science and medicine with ideological based pseudoscience of their own, demonizing people who don’t agree or are different from them. In the process, they are undermining the foundation of our democracy, our religious freedom and our ability to trust one another.
In American Fascists, Chris Hedges writes that the far-right is increasingly clever in the packaging of its misinformation:
And yet, coming from the modern age, the fundamentalists cannot discount science. They employ jargon, methods and data that appear like science to make an argument for creationism. They have created research and scholarly institutions designed to parallel legitimate scientific organizations. They pump out articles in self-published journals to provide “evidence” that homosexuals can be cured, that global warming is a myth, that abortion can cause breast cancer, that something they call “post-abortion syndrome” leads to depression and suicide, and that abstinence-only education is an effective form of birth control. Bogus and unsubstantiated claims, all in the service of ideology, are dressed up to look scientific. This pseudoscience seeps into the public debate, disseminated by a nervous media anxious to give both sides of every argument. Those with contempt for facts and truth, for honest research and inquiry, are given the same platform as those who deal in a world of reality, fact and rationality.
This Culture of Lies betrays civil discourse and undermines our ability to learn and grow in understanding. As a result, our rapidly-changing, complex world is that much more frightening.
As a person of faith, I’ve never understood how people can be so frightened of God-given free will and the rich diversity of all creation. Fear does not seem like a strong foundation for faith, no matter how effective it may be as a political weapon.
Some people say this is “just politics" on the one hand and call themselves "values voters" on the other. Lying. Power. Control. Subjugation. These are traditional family values?
Inherent in every person’s journey to find themselves, their connection to something larger, and to follow a path in this life that applies the lessons learned along the way, is a faith that there is truth. No matter how challenging the search may be at times, no matter how many times we stumble along the way, life’s quest is about each individual finding their way to truth.
When we stumble, or get caught in a lie, we’re taught not to compound the trouble of the lie, but to correct it with the truth, and all will be forgiven. At least that’s how it was in my family. That’s how I understand forgiveness in my faith.
In this extraordinary age, when many faith traditions prophesy a potential for healing, for change, a time when humanity has the potential through collective effort to evolve to greater understanding and usher in peace –- especially in this time of trial and choosing — how can lying, deception, and the politics of personal destruction be anything but a foundation for failure?
Continue to Part 3, Culture of Lies: Tactics and Strategies